Assembly Bill 1639, which would require stricter age verification for purchasers, ramp up sting operations for police to combat under age purchases, heightens penalties for violations, and enact stricter regulations for vaping, has gone to the Senate after being approved by the Assembly.
AB 1639 was read twice during voting yesterday, as numerous Assemblymembers went up to voice their opinion on the matter. Assemblyman Adam C. Gray (D-Merced), who along with Assemblymen Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo), Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), and Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles) introduced the bill, had a passionate argument against what the bill is fighting, particularly e-cigarette use.
“With more than three and a half middle school and high school students reporting e-cigarette use last year, teen vaping has truly reached epidemic proportions,” said Assemblyman Gray before the second vote. “There is a 78 percent increase in use among high school students between 2017 and 2018. The rise of e-cigarette use among students has been eroding due to decades of progress against tobacco against kids. The FDA and CDC have begun to take action at the federal level, but in the meantime California must fill that void.”
Other lawmakers joined in, citing the need to restrict tobacco and vaping use. Some health groups, such as the California Medical Association, have voiced approval after changes to the bill.
However, there has also been much opposition to the bill, some of which has come from the health community. Previous versions of the bill had the removal of ‘flavored’ products, most notably by the e-cigarette company Juul. However these were taken out by lawmakers in early July. Specifically, Assemblyman Gray allowed flavored provisions to be removed in favor of focusing on youth purchases of tobacco. Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) said “The bill was hijacked to go into a package of bills. In reality is an industry-sponsored plan that doesn’t help to alleviate the epidemic of youth vaping.”
A report by the Los Angeles Times has found that Juul has paid $38,000 to two of Assemblyman Gray’s election and ballot measure committees. However, at the same time, Assemblyman Gray has had a long voting record against tobacco and smoking products. This only adds to the complexity on why certain parts of the bill that were harsher to vaping companies were removed.
The political action group Parents Against Vaping also called the bill out on it, and urged lawmakers to vote ‘no’ on the bill. The American Cancer Society, who have been against tobacco and smoking for well over half a century, also urged a no vote, saying “Big Tobacco is using intense lobbying and campaign contributions to lure lawmakers to pass a bill that will do little to curb the current youth e-cigarette epidemic raging in this state.” Other health groups have joined in, saying the bill hasn’t gone far enough, or that it has been too diluted after different forms of the bill removed certain legislation.
AB 1639 was passed 67 to 0 with an urgency clause, meaning that it will go before a much more divided Senate by next week.